Insert Coin: Reviving ’90s gaming on your laptop


Will Podlewski/The Daily Northwestern

Gtron’s SNES controller allows gamers to relive the magic of SNES on their computers.

Will Podlewski, Columnist

Video gaming isn’t cheap. With a torrent of online passes, downloadable content and system peripherals taking a huge bite out of gamers’ wallets, it’s harder than ever to get a decent value when you plunk down your hard-earned cash for the next big thing. But in an industry that seems to care only about the “Call of Duty” and “Assassin’s Creed” franchises, it’s easy to forget that some of the best games out there cost little-to-nothing to enjoy. That’s why every two weeks, I’ll be showing you a great new way to get your video gaming fix for under $20. So get your quarters ready and game on!

In the pantheon of video game characters, one grossly overweight, mustachioed Italian plumber named Mario has achieved more lasting impact than all the Master Chiefs and Commander Shepards in the world — slipping down warp pipes, enthralling generation after generation of countless children and young-at-heart.

But that is no excuse for Mario’s games to be so mind-bendingly hard.

The chief offender is 1990’s “Super Mario World,” originally released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). An unforgiving and cruel platformer, the colorful aesthetics of Mario’s world ill-represent the tortuous enemies and controller-crushingly difficult level design that are the hallmarks of this title. Even the appearance of Mario’s adorable dinosaur steed, Yoshi, does little to mask just how truly punishing “Super Mario World” is.

But really, who am I to complain? After all, I was just playing it for free… legally. How? Through the magic of one gem of a website — is a browser based SNES emulator run through Adobe Flash. This means that there are no files to download; just hop onto the SNESbox homepage and you can start playing “Super Mario World” within seconds. Or try the excellent “Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” or “Super Castlevania IV” or one of the other 1,858 other games they have available — just about every SNES game released in North America, in fact. Good site structuring on the part of the developers means that every single game, from “Super Mario Kart” to the criminally under-appreciated “Earthworm Jim,” runs smoothly in full 16-bit glory. And with the addition of online multiplayer and automatic saving (after registering for a free account), SNESbox is a marked improvement over the actual SNES console experience.

Of course, some of the magic is lost when you end up guiding Mario through all those warp pipes with a keyboard instead of an actual controller, but thankfully hardware manufacturer Gtron has you covered with their SNES USB controller. A near-exact replica of Nintendo’s original, Gtron’s SNES controller works perfectly with the plug-and-play mentality of There is no software to install (no instruction manual, even) or a product code to register. The USB connection is simple and reliable, and the controller works like a charm, even if the buttons can be a little stiff. For just under $9 on Amazon, retro gaming has never been so affordable.

An entire console’s worth of games? Free. A modern spin on a classic controller? Less then $9. Screaming at your computer in frustration after dying for the tenth time in a row in “Super Mario World?” Priceless.